Audeze interviews engineer, producer and bass player Mikey Coltun

 Since 2018 or so, Mikey Coltun has played hundreds of shows on three continents as Mdou Moctar’s bassist, road manager, producer/recording engineer, and friend. Coltun recorded and produced the Moctar album Afrique Victime around the band’s travels in 2019- in studios, apartments, hotel rooms, venue backstages, and in field recordings in Niger. There's a lot more to Mikey than this though...

"I'm obsessed! Audio is so clear and focused with these headphones that it almost feels 3D." -Mikey Coltun
Here's our talk with Mikey:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

Working with my band Les Rhinoceros on three records for John Zorn's Tzadik is up there. I wrote and recorded that music when I was still a teen so it's been fun to revisit those records and still feel proud of the work I did! I'm super proud of the last couple of Mdou Moctar records I played on, produced and recorded - Ilana: The Creator (2019 on Sahel Sounds) and Afrique Victime (2021 on Matador Records).

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

Mostly these days I have been more focused on the engineer, producer and bass player role.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

I was born in Washington, D.C. My father, also a musician, introduced me to music at a young age. I grew up with music always playing around the house such as obscure music from other parts of the world, jazz, classical music and even John Zorn’s Naked City. I started studying music at a young age starting with “kindermusic” at age 3, studying piano from age 6, moving to cello in elementary school, and electric/upright bass when I entered middle school at age 12. I started traveling and playing with Malian griot, West African storyteller and historian, Cheick Hamala Diabaté when I was 16 years old. Since then I have traveled all around the world playing over 250 shows a year.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Having grown up in DC I'd go to a lot of DIY and punk shows which really helped to shape me as an artist. It was that idea of 'if you want something done, do it yourself' that I took to heart. I went to New School in New York and while in New York I'd go to concerts almost every night. From Death By Audio to Zebulon to other DIY spots in Brooklyn to John Zorn's venue The Stone (on avenue C). Getting involved in the Downtown New York music scene and playing with my heroes such as John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Anthony Coleman, Ikue Mori, Todd Sickafoose, Mary Halvorson, Greg Saunier, Mamadou Ba, Tim Lefevbre, and Reggie Workman, was pretty life changing.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

I've always been a perfectionist. When I started traveling a lot to West Africa and working with artists over there it changed that view completely. Something as simple as what brand/model of guitar you play stopped mattering. It's all about the player, fuck the expensive boutique bullshit. I also started accepting the idea of 'running with it'. Having grown up recording bands I always thought the right way to do things was to take hours to set up mics perfectly. As soon as I went over to Niger that idea started changing. When artists are not used to playing in studios it was my job as a producer/engineer to make them feel most comfortable. This challenged the idea of taking hours to get a 'perfect' setup. I moved into the idea of capturing what the music sounds like with mics I could trust and fixing the audio later. It was eye opening.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

I used to work more with more outboard analog gear but recently I'm more into mixing in the box as I'm usually working remotely I love all Sound Toys plugins and will use them on every mix I do. There's something very analog sounding about them.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Do whatever works for you. Don't get caught up in the technicalities. If it sounds good, it is good.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

Since living in New York and working in not the most properly treated rooms I have to rely on headphones to mix about 80% of what I do. I need an accurate representation of sound to feel like I can trust the headphones. I often switch off between different headphones, earbuds and speakers to get the right sounds.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

It's been nothing but a joy to listen to music on these headphones and I find myself making more time to listen. I'm obsessed! Audio is so clear and focused with these headphones that it almost feels 3D.

I've been working on mixing a bunch of different projects from Mdou Moctar to Steve Gunn to records I recorded in Mali and Niger.